Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) has cancelled this year’s Human Rights Press Awards, citing “significant areas of uncertainty” under the law.

Human Rights Press Awards. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

In a statement emailed to members on Monday, club president Keith Richburg said the FCC board met on Saturday and “after a lengthy discussion, regretfully decided to suspend the Human Rights Press Awards pending further review.”

The winners of the Human Rights Press Awards were expected to be announced on May 3, which is also World Press Freedom Day.

“Over the last two years, journalists in Hong Kong have been operating under new ‘red lines’ on what is and is not permissible, but there remain significant areas of uncertainty and we do not wish unintentionally to violate the law,” Richburg wrote. “This is the context in which we decided to suspend the Awards.”

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“I know this is an unusual step to take so late in the process, just weeks before we were set to announce the winners,” he added.

The entry period for the 2022 awards ran from January 1 to February 1. A call for entries on the awards’ website said that human rights reporting “has become more important than ever as governments around the region step up threats to basic freedoms since the pandemic broke out. This has ranged from locking up journalists, carrying out arbitrary detentions to silencing political opponents.”

The Human Rights Press Awards began in 1996. This year, its 26th, will be the first time the FCC has not held the annual awards.

File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

“The FCC intends to continue promoting press freedom in Hong Kong, while recognising that recent developments might also require changes to our approach,” the statement added.

According to its website, “The Human Rights Press Awards recognise top rights-related reporting from around Asia, with the goal of increasing respect for people’s basic rights and focusing attention on threats to those freedoms.”

Press freedom in Hong Kong

When chief executive candidate John Lee was asked on Sunday whether he would defend press freedom in the city, he said: “Freedom of the press always exists in Hong Kong. I think there’s no need to use the word ‘defend’ because it exists and we attach great importance to press freedom. But press freedom needs to fulfil the requirements of the law.”

Apple Daily’s final edition on June 23, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Since the onset of Hong Kong’s national security law in 2020, two of the city’s newsrooms have been raided and their top editors arrested, as press freedom NGOs have sounded the alarm. Apple Daily, Stand News and Citizen News are among the outlets that have shuttered.

A poll this month found that Hongkongers’ satisfaction with press freedom and media outlets in the city had dropped to a record low.

HKFP has reached out to the FCC and the Human Rights Press Awards for comment.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.